ANALYSIS: Watson, Williams to be tested by Irish

Here was a collegiate football team - and one with such a storied and lofty reputation as Notre Dame - coming out in a five wide, no huddle set! Wait a minute, some UM backers must have protested, this isn't pro football, this is college!

EAST LANSING - A week ago in the so-called "Big House", they were stunned.

Here was a collegiate football team - and one with such a storied and lofty reputation as Notre Dame - coming out in a five wide, no huddle set!

Wait a minute, some UM backers protested, this isn't pro football, this is college!

But that isn't the way Notre Dame and former New England Patriots head coach Charlie Weis thinks. Weis saw an opportunity to catch a team off-guard and it worked. UM never adapted to Weis forward-thinking tactics and although they had chances, never converted, losing 17-7. The loss dropped UM from its lofty ranking as the third best team in college football.

Now it's Notre Dame, who comes in with the lofty ranking, 10th and expect Weis to continue to use what he thinks will work against a particular team, no matter how bizzare it may seem to some. It wouldn't be out of the question to see Notre Dame play some option football.

But Weis probably looks at the problems MSU had a season ago defending the pass and sees a player starting at the one corner who had been a third-stringer a season ago (Watson) and a JUCO transfer (Williams) manning the other. In reserve, he sees a player (Jaren Hayes) who barely played at all due to suspension.

So expect Weis to air it out and try to get big plays against Michigan State's emerging defense. While some expect the Irish to play smash-mouth, close to the vest football, that isn't their style - at least not anymore.

Junior quarterback Brady Quinn (6-foot-4, 231 pounds) will likely try to hook up with Senior wide receiver Rhema McKnight. McKnight is the "z" (flanker) receiver in the Irish version of the west coast offense.

The scheme emphasizes short passes and runs after the catch. Maurice Stovall, a 6-foot-5, 222 pound senior mans the "x" or split end position, while Anthony Fasano - Notre Dame's leading receiver with eight catches to date - is the "Y" (hybrid end/tight end).

McKnight will likely draw Williams, the transfer from Pima CC. Williams has quietly moved into the starting position ahead of former walk-on Travis Key and stabilized the position with his combination of speed, height (6-foot-1) and experience at the JUCO level.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame feels comfortable going to four and even five wides because of the depth they believe they have at the position, including Jeff Samardzija who has become sort of a bail out guy for Quinn. " Jeff has great athletic ability and ball skills," said Weis.

"He's been a perfect complement in the system, along with the other receivers we have. The combination of Rhema (McKnight) and Mo (Maurice Stovall) and Jeff, Anthony (Fasano) and John (Carlson), with (Matt) Shelton on the horizon, the combination of all these guys, when you put them all together, it gives you opportunities for guys to be singled out. You can't really roll coverage in every direction. I think at this point Jeff has been the one who has been open based off the coverage schemes. I think Brady has done a nice job of getting the ball in his hands."

The Spartans will go to Key, Hayes and likely sophomore Michael Bell. MSU will need them all on Saturday because the Irish don't sit on leads, in true NFL style, Weis continues to attack with a lead.

When asked about Notre Dame's lack of points after getting up on Michigan Weis replied,"Well, I mean, I'm calling a play action pass with 2 minutes, 11 seconds to go with the game on the line. I don't know how much caution that is. The drive before that, went on that infamous sack/no sack play. There was another play where I put in multiple tight ends and throwing a down the field shot play that never matriculated. I think it was a combination of cause, production and efficiency. I think it kind of hit the trifecta on that one right there."

"I'll do my best to improve on that this week. "

Spartans beware.

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